As I mentioned yesterday, I’m just coming back from vacation and am totally craving “healthy” homemade food. So, I prepared these Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls to eat for lunch the rest of the week. They’re packed with protein, fiber, and lots of vibrant colors and flavors. That’s exactly what I need to keep both my stomach and brain feeling full. I’ve actually been looking forward to lunch every day this week and finding myself thinking things like, “Is 10:30 too early for lunch?” LOL
Tofu Cooking Techniques
I’ve only recently gotten into tofu and am still experimenting with cooking methods. My favorite method previously had been coating pressed tofu with cornstarch, then pan frying. This time I decided to experiment with skipping the cornstarch all together. Guess what? The tofu was still pleasantly crispy and had a wonderful texture and mouthfeel. I might still do the cornstarch step on occasion, but skipping that step is definitely faster and easier.
No Marinating Needed!
I made a super simple spicy-sweet sauce for the tofu, which gave it all the flavor it needed without having to marinate. The tofu absorbed the sauce quickly in the skillet and turned the otherwise boring little tofu bricks into tasty little bites that I couldn’t stop stealing out of the skillet. I will probably make another batch immediately after I finish eating these bowls, and just eat them as is. They are that good.
Optional Sauces for Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls
This bowl isn’t a “saucy” dish, so if you like bowls to have dressing or a sauce to bring everything together you might try something like sriracha mayo or sweet chili sauce. A few creamy slices of avocado would also be an awesome addition if you want even more colors, flavors, and textures.
Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls
- 1 bunch kale ($1.50)
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil ($0.02)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce ($0.09)
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil ($0.11)
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds ($0.08)
CHILI GARLIC TOFU
- 14 oz block firm tofu $2.00 ($2.00)
- 2 Tbsp chili garlic sauce* ($0.42)
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce ($0.09)
- 1 Tbsp brown sugar ($0.04)
- 4 cups cooked brown rice ($0.64)
- 1 lime ($0.33)
- 1/4 bunch cilantro (optional) ($0.25)
- Remove the tofu from its package and wrap it in a clean, lint-free kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towel. Place the wrapped tofu between two plates and place something heavy on top (like a pot full of water). Let the tofu press for at least 30 minutes.
- While the tofu is pressing, prepare the kale. Remove the stems from the kale, then cut the leaves into one-inch wide strips. Rinse the leaves well in a colander with cool water. Let drain.
- Mince the garlic and add it to large pot with one tablespoon cooking oil. Sauté over medium heat for about one minute. Add the washed kale and continue to stir and cook until the kale is wilted (about five minutes). Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Set the kale aside.
- Prepare the sauce for the tofu. In a small bowl, stir together the chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, and brown sugar. Once the tofu is finished pressing, cut it into small cubes or rectangles.
- Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add one tablespoon of cooking oil. Tilt the skillet to make sure the surface is completely covered. Add the tofu pieces. Let them fry until golden brown on bottom, then flip and fry until golden brown on the other side. Continue until the pieces are golden brown on most sides. (The tofu will stick until it is browned, at which point it will loosen from the skillet, so don't try to move or flip the tofu pieces too early.)
- Once the tofu is browned on most sides, turn off the heat, pour the prepared chili garlic sauce into the skillet, and stir to coat. The sauce will thicken slightly and absorb into the tofu.
- To build the bowls, add one cup of cooked rice to each bowl along with 1/4 of the sesame kale and 1/4 of the chili garlic tofu pieces. Slice a lime into wedges and serve each bowl with one or two wedges and a few sprigs of fresh cilantro. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the bowl just before eating.
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Scroll down for the step by step photos!
Step by Step Photos
Remove a 14oz. block of tofu from its package and wrap it in a clean, lint-free kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towel. Place the wrapped tofu between two plates, then set something heavy on top to press it. Let it press for about 30 minutes (or while you’re preparing the kale). My tofu came in two pieces in the package this time, but it still works the same.
Remove the stems from one bunch of kale, then stack the leaves and cut them into one-inch wide strips. Rinse the kale in a colander with cool running water. (For more detailed instructions and photos of the sesame kale portion of this bowl, see the Sesame Kale blog post.)
Mince two cloves of garlic and add them to a large pot along with one tablespoon of cooking oil. Sauté over medium heat for about one minute, then add the washed kale. Continue to stir and cook until the kale has wilted (about five minutes). Once wilted, add 1 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp toasted sesame oil, and 1 Tbsp sesame seeds. Stir to coat. Set the kale aside.
The base for my sauce is this chili garlic sauce. It’s just a chunky mixture of red chiles, garlic, vinegar, and salt. It’s like sriracha’s more rustic cousin and it’s good on pretty much anything you’d put sriracha on.
This is what the sauce looks like up close. You should be able to find this in the Asian foods aisle of major grocery stores, near the sriracha. If you can’t find it, sambal oelek and sriracha also work well.
To make the sauce for the tofu, mix 2 Tbsp of that chili garlic sauce with 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 Tbsp brown sugar. Set the prepared sauce aside.
When the tofu is finished pressing, cut it into small cubes or rectangles. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, add 1 Tbsp cooking oil and tilt the skillet to make sure the surface if completely covered. Add the tofu cubes and let them fry until golden brown on the bottom. They WILL stick until they are browned, at which point they will loosen. So, don’t try to move them around or flip them early or else they’ll break apart and you’ll have a mess. :) Once browned, flip and brown again. Continue until they’re browned on most sides.
Once browned, turn off the heat, pour the prepared sauce over the tofu, and stir to coat. The sauce will thicken just a bit and absorb into the tofu making them insanely delicious.
I mean REALLY DELICIOUS. I ate a few. I couldn’t help it.
Anyway, to build the bowls just put one cup cooked rice (or whatever grain is your favorite–I used brown jasmine rice) in a bowl and add 1/4 of the sesame kale and 1/4 of the chili garlic tofu pieces. Slice a lime into wedges and add a couple wedges to each bowl, along with a couple sprigs of fresh cilantro (optional). Squeeze the lime over the Chili Garlic Tofu Bowls just before eating and enjoy!! …I know I did. ;)
I made this tonight and I will definitely be making it again with some modifications. I find that 1 1/2 cups rice serves 4, so I made a smaller amount of rice than recommended and it worked great.
I would have liked more tofu and more sauce, so I’ll be tripling the sauce and buying two bricks of tofu next time, both for more tofu and more sauce to spread on the rice.
Very tasty and will make again! 🤤 I clearly wanted more hahahaha
Like everyone said delicious and really easy way to make tofu definitely a keeper! Thanks for sharing!
I couldn’t get enough of this dish! I actually craved it. Let me tell you…I’m not a cook. I don’t like to do it, but my bank account told me I had to. This recipe really impressed me with both its flavor and ease. I cannot wait to make it again!!!
This is one delicious and filling recipe! You end up dirtying a lot of pots and pans but it’s so worth it. The perfect amount of sweet, salty, spice, and nuttiness, combined with exciting texture variety… This is a vegan lunch worth keeping on the heavy rotation for sure.
New favorite way to make Tofu in our household!
Made this tonight and wow it was super delicious, I was really impressed with the sauce – could have eaten the whole block of tofu myself!
Did not make the kale so served the tofu with rice and stir fry veggies – this is definitely making it into our dinner rotation – might even make it again tomorrow.
This is my absolute favorite tofu recipe. I make at least twice a month. So delicious, sweet, salty, and spicy. One small change I like to make is to use Lacinato or flat leaf kale. It is a little bit sweeter I find and complements the sauce well.
I love this recipe; everyone in the family does. We prep three blocks of tofu because it’s that good.
has anyone tried this without the chili garlic sauce?
Always a meal prep favorite in my family. I add some sesame oil during the kale stirring, and some Furikake on the top at the end. Great recipe!
Before I tried this recipe, I never made tofu before (the thought of preparing it seemed intimidating to me). This recipe has quickly become one of my and my husband’s favorite lunches I mealprep every week. Thank you for this delicious recipe!